Sunday, 24 March 2013

Pyrenees long weekend.

Some of you will already know about my recent trip to the Spanish pre-pyrenees with Heatherlea, through following my ramblings on twitter. Myself & 3 companions set of on the 21st of feb for Gatwick where we were to fly out on the morning of the 22nd after an overnight stay in a local hotel. We met with Kevin Shaw (owner of Heatherlea) & the 6 other members of the party & checked in. The short 2 hour flight to Barcelona was followed by a 4 hour minibus journey to the village of Loporzano, to the Boletas birdwatching center which was to be our base for the next 3 nights. The weather was unseasonably cold with a strong biting wind. The skys were clear & blue for the most part though & the following pics do not tell you how bloody cold it really was!

 This is owned & run by Josele Saiz, a birder & guide with un-paralleled knowledge of birding in Aragon & exceptional determination to get you the birds that you have come to see. While Josele is guiding, The guest house is run by his partner Esther Diago. Local ingredients prepared by Esther into delicious local & mediteranean dishes are a welcome sight after a long days birding.
Our birding started as soon as we got into the minibus at the airport with Spotless starlings & Yellow-legged gull. White stork, Red kite & Griffon vulture were all seen from the bus. A short stop at a ruined castle near Loporzano, failed to turn up a hoped for Black Wheatear though.
Saturday was to be the start of our birding proper. A Black redstart was found outside the front door & Spotless starlings lined the rooftops. A pair of White stork roosted on the church tower all the time we were there.

We travelled to Riglos where the sandstone pillars tower above the small village.

We were looking for Wallcreeper one of the two target birds of the trip. Unfortunately, we didnt have any luck but Blue rock thrush & Alpine accentor were good consolation birds.

Griffon vultures were ever present & Red Kite were also seen.

From here we travelled to a dam (name eludes me) to again look for the elusive Wallcreeper. And elusive it stayed, but we did get distant views of a pair of Lammergeier, Golden eagle & closer views of Crag martin. A couple more places were checked on the way back including a small quarry along the road. 

A walk around a steep sided valley near Loporzano showed evidence of Eagle owl, but due to the strong cold wind, no sightings were made.
The next morning was spent at a Lammergeier feeding station, higher up in the mountains where a dark juvenile was spotted  on the ground with what looked like jackdaws. We then realized they were Raven! This is one huge bird. It was probably the best part of 500m away but looked good through the scope. A few minutes later an adult pair appeared from nowhere & gave the group a fantastic flypast, eventually joined by the juvenile. Rock bunting, Corn bunting & crested larks were all seen on the trip up.

Next it was back to Riglos for a picnic lunch & more staring at rock! Josele had had a tip off that the Wallcreeper had been seen twice in the last week at the far end of the cliff face during the afternoon. With a growing sense of "here we go again" now in the group, we made our way around & got into position. After about half an hour, one of the group spotted something about 50m up the cliff. Then as it parachuted down to ground level, we all got a glimpse of a Wallcreeper. Josele then told me to go up to the base of the cliff, some 25m above us & get some pics. I didnt need telling twice & was off like a scared cat up the scree. A couple of bankers from about 30m away in the bag, I decided to try & get a little closer. As the bird flitted & fed around the cracks & crevices, it often disappeared from sight. I used these opportunities to creep closer & ended up around 15m from the bird still happily pulling many spiders from the cliff face.

Needless to say we were all very happy as well as relieved that we had finally finished staring at rocks & dams. Josele's persistance had payed off.
View from the base of the cliffs at Riglos.
The following morning found us again at the Eagle owl valley. This time scope views were gained of an owl on the nest, tucked into a alcove in the cliff face. Next was a Raptor viewpoint above a lake formed by yet another dam. The drive up along a twisty icy dirt track, with sheer drops to the side was an experience that a few did not want to repeat. The bird we were looking for here was Bonellies eagle. It is a very rare bird, but the Pyrenees is a strong hold for them in Europe. Scoping around, I found a small herd of Spanish Ibex on the opposite hill side. Black & red kite, Golden eagle, Griffon vulture & Goshawk were all spotted from here. Then Joselie hit the jackpot again & found a pair of Bonellies sat on top of an outcrop a few hundred meters away.
Too far away for my camera, I took this pic with my phone through one of the groups telescopes. A drive to a lower, wetter area found us looking at a flock of many hundred Common crane, just in from Africa.
From here we then travelled south for a couple of hours to the Belchite steppes & to a new hotel for the night. Golden eagles were spotted on the way down as well as 3 Black kites & numerous Red kite. Crested lark lined the roads & white stork were also spotted.
Before breakfast the next morning, we travelled to La planeron to search for Duponts lark. Luckily the wind had dropped & the sun was about to rise into a clear cold sky. Several birds were heard singing as the sun rose, but none were were seen. Lesser Short toed, Thekla & calandra lark were all spotted in this area as well as a huge murmuration of Starlings. Josele commented that he had never before seen this before in the area. Next was a walk up through a narrow vally in a restricted military training area. Black wheatear, Rock bunting, Sardinian warbler & Thekla lark were all seen up through here.
Great bustard was the next target & a large group of around 30 was found on farmland in an area used by them year on year. The rough tracks in the area also allowed us to look for Black-bellied Sandgrouse. after a little off roading in the hired minibus, we eventually seen a single bird in flight & a pair on the track. Alas only scope views were obtained, but what a stunning bird!
The last morning was spent at a wildfowl refuge where Red-crested pochard, a possible Feruginous duck & Penduline tits were added to the list. From here we travelled back to Barcalona to catch the flight back to a slightly warmer England!
Many thanks to Kevin, Joselie & Esther for an enjoyable if hectic trip.

Photography notes:
All bird photos were taken with with a Nikon D4 with Sigma 120-300mm OS lens with Sigma 2x teleconverter attached. All were taken hand held. Landscape & Bonellies eagle pics were taken with my phone!